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                   Monday, February 6, 2012 - 7:30AM CST

Some unintentional, but needed, upgrades for 2012 observing

By DAN ROBINSON
Editor/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Observing
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2004 was the year that I introduced technology into my storm observing endeavors, namely with the purchase of a laptop, GPS mapping, and a Mobile Threat Net / WxWorx system. Aside from buying a new laptop in 2009, my mobile observing equipment/software has not seen any upgrades since 2004. When it comes to covering these days, I don't like spending money on equipment - I like to make do with what I have for as long as I can. Nonetheless, my 2004 setup was in dire need of upgrades, mainly in the realm of my GPS systems.

My old DeLorme puck has never been very reliable, dropping satellites frequently and many times losing its position fix altogether for long periods of time. On top of that, the USB connection would almost always die after about 2 or 3 hours of use, requiring a reboot to get it back. The Serial Emulator that allowed for use with Threat Net would also drop out all the time. In an unrelated issue, my laptop running Windows Vista was getting to the point where it would take 10 minutes to fully boot. I'd still be limping along with all of that today if it hadn't been for a series of upgrades I was more or less forced to implement after purobserving a new video camera in December.

My old prosumer Sony HD video camera (that I bought in 2005) is well past its service life, with several major problems developing throughout the course of 2011. Consequently I was forced to make the decision to buy a new HD video camera in December with the proceeds from an unexpected stock footage sale, or else face the real possibility of not having a working HD camera for 2012. I was only able to afford a new consumer-grade camera, but thanks to the advances in quality made in recent years, the new camera does an equal job to my old Sony in terms of picture quality. It's also tapeless, which is very nice, but it is lacking some functions that I'll really miss having from the old Sony. The worst thing about the camera is the CMOS rolling shutter for lightning, which I knew I'd have to accept with most any new camera on the market today.

Anyway, the new camera shoots in AVCHD, which required me to upgrade my copy of Adobe Premiere CS3 to CS5 in order to import the footage - a $250 hit. CS5 is a 64-bit application, which required me to upgrade my laptop to 64-bit Windows 7 - another $130. My old DeLorme GPS puck will not work in the 64-bit OS, a problem that after much research, I learned DeLorme has no intention of fixing. So, I had to spend money on a new GPS puck (a GlobalSat) along with Franson GPSGate to split the GPS feed into multiple ports for all of my applications - another $70 total.

So in the end, that's $450 extra I had to shell out to get a fully-operational chase setup again, as a direct result of the new video camera - in addition to the cost of the camera itself. But, they were much-needed upgrades that will take away a few big headaches I've been living with for the past few seasons.

With the upgrades to the laptop and GPS, in conjunction with my 3G/4G aircard I got back in late June this year, I now have a much better/stable platform for streaming. Last year it was just too much of a hassle to keep that going, but if the better 'base' system allows it to stay up with less hand-on attention needed, I might start streaming on a more consistent basis in 2012.

As for Mobile Threat Net/WxWorx, it remains a vital part of my setup, and will be for a long time - despite me now having Verizon data via aircard. Shortly after I upgraded the laptop, we had the first of our severe weather events here on January 17. I had not yet installed the WxWorx drivers, so I had to observe storms entirely with internet radar. It was terrible - cell coverage was spotty to non-existent away from the interstates/metro areas. Most of the expedition, I had no radar at all. I also had no GPS, thanks to the DeLorme puck not working in Windows 7. When you've gone nearly 8 years with GPS and reliable radar, suddenly having to observe storms without both is a real eye-opener on how helpful they actually are. I made sure I had, at the very least, WxWorx working for the next storm observation day we had here on January 22.

Cellular data coverage has come a long way, but even now in 2012, it is nowhere near being to the point where I'd consider turning off my WxWorx satellite data stream. As for the future, I don't expect we'll see much of a data coverage improvement in the rural areas that we storm observers frequently find ourselves in - there's no reason for a provider to put money into new towers in places that very few people need service.

25 Years of Storm Observing
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